Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's Cookie Season, And So It's All About The Make-Ahead, Bake-Ahead Chocolate Pistachio Cookies.

christmas cookies

   Forget about what you think you're supposed to/want to/eat. This is cookie season by God, and no matter what Holiday if any you celebrate, NO ONE is  going to let you off their premises without stuffing you full of some sort of baked goods. I'm not talking about the legendary subject of all those jokes, the fruitcake. Anyone can get fruitcake. You want fruitcake? I'll get ya a fruitcake by 3:00 this afternoon (if you're not a Lebowskiite ignore that.) I'm talking hardcore Christmas cookies. The ones shaped like things, covered with neon bright boiled frosting and studded with stuff that doesn't look like it should be edible, but is.

   I grew up in a house where Christmas was always marked by the Italian version of fruitcake... Pannetone.

One had to be careful about those as the cheaper relatives were known to keep these things in the box and just regift it next year.

Unlike fruticake they don't get better with age.

There are a few other "unique" traditions. When other kids were singing about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer we had something else to sing about. Yeah really.

Sooooo.... after all that, it's kind of hard to roll out reindeer Christmas cookies if you get my drift. We're doing a lot of entertaining in the new house house this winter and it struck me that it might be time to get into cookie making. Cookies are notoriously fast, easy and I remember hearing someplace a long time ago that they could be made ahead, stored in the freezer or fridge and just rolled out and baked. Sounded good to me. With all the stuff going on, anything with the word ahead in it, was an absolute must. Remarkably I found a few totally elegant cookie recipes in this book.

The flavors are subtle, they're easy to make, and like I said.....ahead, ahead. ahead!!

Chocolate Pistachio Orange Cookies


Here's What You Need:
1 cup of unsalted butter . (I use grass fed pastured butter in my cooking, and especially when making European recipes such as these, I think it helps to get as close to the ingredients that would be used there, here.)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs powdered (confectioners) sugar
1 pinch of salt.
1 egg
6 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder. (once again use the best cocoa you can get your mitts on, trust me it 's worth it.)
2 1/4 cups of flour
3/4 cup blanched pistachios
zest of 1 orange

Here's What To Do:
In a large bowl, or a stand mixer mix together the butter...


...and salt.

Zest the orange and set it aside.

Cream the butter, sugar, and salt together until it's light and fluffy then add in the egg.

Mix the egg in well. When it's fully incorporated, sift together the cocoa and flour.

Add in the mixed cocoa and flour...

...and the orange zest.

When it's blended together, fold in the pistachios by hand.

The dough is stiff, so  that's why you want to add the pistachios by hand.
On a lightly floured surface, or a silicone mat, roll the dough into a cylinder about 10 inches long and 2 inches across. I broke this dough into about 3 cylinders. Some for baking now and some for baking later.

Wrap the cylinders in waxed paper and pop them into the fridge to chill.

They can stay refrigerated there for several days before you bake, and I imagine one could also freeze the cylinders as long as they're tightly wrapped since this is basically a butter cookie.
Set your oven rack to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat it to 375 degrees.
Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper, or silicone mats.
When the oven is up to speed and the dough is nice and firm, unwrap and slice.

Not too thick but just right.
Put the sliced cookie dough on the baking sheet giving them enough room between, (about 1 inch) and pop them into the oven.

Bake them for about 12 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies seem dry.
Take them out of the oven, off the cookie sheet and set them on a rack to cool.
When they're nice and cool serve them up!

chocolate pistachio cookies, christmas cookies

   These cookies are amazing, and the orange zest adds just the right note of contrast with the chocolate. Plus they really, really, do keep well in the fridge for later baking. I found this out because I've baked these cookies over several days this week and they turned out great. I haven't tried the freezing trick yet, but I have tried one friend Jane the nurse told me that she freezes fresh baked cookies after cooling for later eating. So I tried it. I put the cookies in an airtight container in my freezer and I'm planning on testing them when the cousins come for Christmas.


   Just had to take one more picture. Coming up next. I do go off the rails from what I usually do and will be featuring a couple more cookie recipes for holiday entertaining, a trick to try with all the fresh persimmons out there right now. I'm also going to try giving these recipes a gluten free spin and see what happens. Then Idili, I promise. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Monday, December 15, 2014

Coconut Macaroons For Holiday Feasting, Naturally Gluten Free.

macaroons, coconnut macaroons, glutenfree
   I didn't get a lot of cookies growing up. My mother was a believer in fruit and cheese as snack food, not sugary stuff. Of course there was the time that I discovered her Mallomar stash in a high up cupboard.

   "What's this I asked."

   "Oh, that's not good for kids. It's adult, you wouldn't like the taste. Gimme that." It was quickly snatched back and put up even higher.

   Of course by the time I did get my mitts on a Mallomar, I knew she'd been lying to me. But, it's true I never developed a personal taste for really sweet stuff. When my mother did bake, she made "butter" cookies always featuring this stuff...

...and baked to the size and consistency of poker chips. I was the kid no one wanted to swap with at lunch time.
   My grandmothers were a different story. Both of them were excellent cooks and bakers, and they knew cookies! Butter cookies, meringues, those ladies knew treats. By far my favorite of all the things either of them made were macaroons. Italian macaroons aka Amaretti. I loved those little cookies that my relatives served with cups of espresso. Until I moved to LA and started hitting the delis, I didn't know about macaroons made with coconut. Italian macaroons are an almond based cookie, so when I first sampled the coconut variety, wow! I was hooked. But as hooked as I was, it had never occurred to me to attempt baking them.

   Most macaroon recipes call for sweetened coconut, which makes them extra rich and gooey. Something that sweet was not something that I was particularly crazy about keeping in the house. Also some macaroons, have a tendency to be sticky and greasy. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not what I was looking for. Then I stumbled on a recipe from the oldest continually operating confectionary in Paris, A la mere de Famille This place has been churning out the sweet stuff for the last 250 years. They have to know what they're doing. Their recipe for macaroons looked amazing, and surprisingly did not call for sweetened coconut. I knew I had to give these cookies a try.
   So, yesterday I set out to make my first batch of coconut macaroons. It was a lot easier than I  thought it would be. There is a minimum of ingredients here, and just about the only time consuming part is the 2 hours one has to wait for the macaroons to "dry" before putting them into the oven. Aside from that, it's a really easy recipe, and one that's going into my permanent file.

Coconut Macaroons

Here's What You Need:
3 egg whites
1 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar
2 1/2 cups of shredded unsweetened coconut

Here's What To Do:
Put the egg whites in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.

Add in the sugar.

Heat a sauce pan filled with one inch water on the stove at medium heat.
Place the bowl or the stand mixer bowl in the water.

Heat the egg whites and the sugar whisking constantly.
Keep an instant read thermometer nearby, as you want to get the mixture you're whisking up to 115 degrees.

Not there yet. Keep whisking.
As soon as the egg whites and sugar reach 115, take your bowl or your stand mixer bowl and using a beater with a whisk attachment at high speed, start whipping the stuff up.

You want to get the mixture fluffy, voluminous and cool to the touch. This takes about 10 minutes, so this is where a stand mixer really comes in handy as I discovered.
When your egg white sugar mixture is ready, add the shredded coconut.

Fold it in gently with a spatula.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Drop 1 Tbs. size  mounds of batter onto the cookie sheets.

Now the waiting period. Set the macaroons out to "dry" at room temperature for 2 hours.

When you're about ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Bake the macaroons, one tray at a time for 4 minutes.

When they're lightly browned, they're done.

Take them put and set them on a cooling rack and pop the next batch in.

We've been invited to a Chanukah dinner with friends on Tuesday so I was giving these cookies a test run. Needless to say, they made the cut.

macaroons,  glutenfree

This started out being a LOT more macaroons. More like this. Store these macaroons in an airtight container for up to 2 days. But the odds of being able to keep them around for that long.... fuggedaboutit.

macaroons, gluten free

   So there it is. Macaroons don't have to be tricky to be good, and these are damn good, otherwise those guys over in Paris wouldn't have been in business for so long. Coming up next, some Christmas cookies, and if it's cold and rainy outside, it's Idilli and sambar time inside! Follow along on Twitter at @kathygori

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tea For Two, Or Three, Or More? Try These Cardamom Mava Cakes for Holiday Entertaining.

   I have to admit when I think of Indian food, and I do - a lot -the word cupcake has never come to mind. The cupcake craze in the US seemed to be everywhere a few years back, epitomized by  Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell's short, Lazy Sunday. After that,  Cupcakes seemed to jump the shark or get eaten by it or whatever.

   For better or worse, cupcakes have receded back into the rest of the bakery goods department being elbowed aside by stuff such as cronuts, crumbnuts, and God help us, pretzel croissants. But one place that still reveres the cupcake is Mumbai and that's when I first heard about Mava, or Mawa Cakes earlier this year. A number of Indian food writers had been talking about them, photographing them and baking them. Bawi Bride, SinfullyspicyMy Diverse Kitchen, and Eat and Dust had all featured Mava cakes in various forms and I was eager to try my hand at them.

   If you've never heard of Mava cakes (I hadn't until just this year) they are a delicious, buttery, cardamomy cake that orginated in the Parsi, (Iranian) cafes in India just a tad over a century ago. The orginator and most famous purveyor of these treats was a place called B. Merwans in Mumbai.

Earlier this year they announced they were closing up shop due to building renovations, and that's when the Mava hit the fan. Anyone who'd ever enjoyed these sweet treats started writing about them. Mava cakes were everywhere in the Indian food media.
   Once I heard about them of course I had to try them. The sticking point for me seemed to be the mava in the mava cake. Mava, mawa, either way, is khoya. Khoya is made by cooking milk down slowly. You can make it or buy it in Indian markets, or as I've done in the past, use dense, full fat ricotta as a substitute. However if you've got an hour to spare and you'd like to make your own khoya, it's not very difficult at all, plus it keeps really well in the fridge or freezer. Once made, the mava is added to the batter which is just like any other cake batter and can be baked in a variety of sizes and shapes. Cupcakes, layer, whatever the heart desires. So, remember you can use ricotta as a substitute but if you'd like to try making your own mava, here's how to do it. The rest of the recipe follows.

Cardamom Mava Cakes

Here's What You Need:
For Mava
 2 cans of full fat evaporated milk
1 cup of whipping cream

Here's What to Do:
Pour the evaporated milk...

...and whipping cream into a pot.

Mix it together well and bring it to a boil.

When it's boiling, turn it down to high medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring to make sure to doesn't stick and burn.
It'll start to thicken.
Lower the heat to medium low and continue to stir it till it thickens some more.

Cook it down for another 10 minutes, till it thickens further.
Now lower the heat to low and cook for about another 10 minutes when it's the thickness of thick pudding, dude, you've got mava!

This recipe only calls for using 1/2 cup of mava so put what's left int he fridge for a short while  or in a tight container in the freezer where it can safely stay for about 3 months.
Each batch of mava is good for three batches of cakes.

The Mava Cakes

Here's What You Need:
1/2 cup of mava (room temperature)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground cardamom
a pinch of salt
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
1 and 1/4 cup of flour
6 Tbs of milk

Here's What To Do: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly oil whatever pan you're going to be using to bake your mava cakes in. I used silicone molds so no greasing required.

In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
Select a few whole green cardamom pods.

Crack them in the mortar, toss the husks and remove the seeds and start grinding them.

When you have 1/4 teaspoon worth, add it to the flour, salt, and baking powder mixture. Set it aside.
Using a stand mixer or a hand beater, add  butter to a bowl.

Toss in the sugar...

...and 1/2 cup of mava.

Beat  them together at medium speed until they're light and fluffy.

Turn the beater speed to low and add the eggs one at a time.

Make sure each of them is completely mixed into the batter before adding the next.
Keep the speed on low and add in the flour, baking powder, salt , and cardamom mixture.

As that's mixing together, add in the 6 Tbs of milk.
When you have a nice smooth batter, pour it into whatever you're baking it in.
Fill the cupcake cups or molds only about halfway as the mava cakes will rise.
Pop them into the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes.
When they're done unmold them onto a baking rack.

These are delicious buttery little cakes, fragrant with cardamom. You can also add lemon, or orange zest, cashews or pistachios to the batter.

   If you've  already made your mava or you have ricotta to add to the batter instead, these bake up quickly and easily making them the perfect little snack when holiday visitors come calling. Coming up next more Indian treats and gluten free and vegan sides for the festive table. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


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